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Friday 21st October 2016

Hybrid embryo work threatened

5th January 2007

26072006_stem_cell_research1.jpgUK scientists have reacted angrily to reports that the government is considering a new law stopping them from making human-animal hybrids.

Scientists had hoped to make the hybrids, known as “chimerasâ€?, to research cures for degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Motor Neurone Disease.  Chimeras are created when genetic material is taken from humans and put into a host animal egg which is then allowed to grow into a very early embryo as a source of stem cells for research.  The scientists now fear their work is under threat and have accused the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) of bowing to government pressure.

The government has responded by saying they are considering outlawing hybrid stem-cell research due to public opinion.  The creation of life to save life and the mixing of human and animal cells raises big ethical concerns for many members of the public.  Opponents of the research feel the work tampers with nature and is unethical.  The Prime Minister has said that any new law would include flexibility to support scientific research but added that there were “difficult issuesâ€? surrounding the creation of part human-part animal embryos.

The creation of hybrid human-animal embryos was first proposed by scientists as a way of overcoming the shortage of human eggs available for research.  They also favour the process as it is less cumbersome and yields better results.  However, the HFEA is unable to decide whether this controversial work is permissible under current laws or whether work involving animal cells even falls under their jurisdiction. 

The Department of Health has said that any new law, which still needs to be debated in Parliament, would contain a clause allowing for the possibility of this type of work continuing in the future.  The Prime Minster has indicated that any work which prolongs life and eases suffering should be allowed to continue but that ethical concerns needed to be discussed and properly debated.


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